A Tennessee federal jury split its verdict Friday against nine people accused of operating a sex trafficking ring across three states run mostly by Somali refugee gang members, convicting three men and acquitting six.
The defendants are among 30 who were indicted in the case that spans from Minnesota to Ohio and Tennessee. The jury of six men and six women deliberated over five days this week before returning the verdict. The other defendants were severed from the trial and could face trial at a later date.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Van Vincent said the verdict shows that the jury found that sex trafficking did occur and the government won't cease prosecuting these cases.
"It's very important for victims to understand that you can come forward, people will listen and that people can believe what you have to say about the crime," Vincent said.
A Somali witness identified only as Jane Doe No. 2 testified that she was used as a prostitute by gang members starting at the age of 12. She cried in court as she described being taken to several apartments in around suburban Minneapolis to have sex with other Somali men for money, sometimes as little as $40.
Idris Ibrahim Fahra, Andrew Kayachith and Yassin Abdirahman Yusuf were found guilty of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion. The three men were also charged with child sex trafficking and attempted child sex trafficking, but only Fahra was convicted on one additional count of child sex trafficking.
Fahra faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for the child sex trafficking conviction up to life in prison, and Kayachith and Yusuf face possible maximum sentences of up to life. No sentencing date has been set.
According to the prosecutors, Idris Fahra, who went by the nickname "Chi Town," had an apartment in St. Paul in 2006 that was used for trafficking of Jane Doe No. 2, who was in the 7th grade at the time, and he would also get to have sex with her for free because he was a member of the gang.
Jane Doe No. 2 also described being taken to Nashville in April 2009 for the purpose of sexual trafficking. Andrew Kayachith, who went by the nickname "AK," and Yassin Abdirahman Yusuf, who went by the nickname "Junior," were detained in Nashville by police along with Jane Doe No. 2.
Defense attorneys repeatedly questioned whether Jane Doe No. 2 was a juvenile at the time the sex acts occurred because prosecutors revealed on the eve of trial that her birth certificate was falsified. But Vincent said the jury determined she was under the age of 18.
Attorney David Komisar, attorney for Yusuf, said his client was disappointed by the verdict and he plans to fight the conviction.
"He maintains his innocence and we don't think that there was proof that Jane Doe No. 2 was underage in April of 2009," he said following the verdict.
Carol Owen, the attorney who represented Jane Doe No. 2 and her family, said the three individuals who were convicted were directly involved with the trafficking that Jane Doe No. 2 described on the stand.
Owen called her client courageous for taking the stand for five days to testify about very intimate details of the sexual acts in front of a courtroom full of Somalis and said Jane Doe No. 2's parents remain supportive of her. Defense attorneys had claimed she willingly had sex with multiple defendants and lied about it so her conservative Somali family could save face.
"She testified in order to tell the truth and bring justice to people who should be prosecuted," she said. "The justice system gave her her day."
Owen said Jane Doe No. 2 hopes to be an advocate for other sex trafficking victims and hopes that by taking the stand, other victims will come forward.
Six of the nine defendants are of Somali descent. Two others were natives of Ethiopia. Kayachith was born in the U.S. and is of Laotian descent.
Jennifer Thompson, defense attorney for defendant Fahra, said in closing statements last week that Jane Doe No. 2 was a runaway who manipulated people around her and was fed information from a St. Paul, Minn., police investigator.
Thompson did not immediately return a call seeking comment about her client.
Another witness, who was identified in court as Jane Doe No. 5, testified that she saw young women and girls being used as prostitutes in a Nashville apartment. She testified that she was being used to have sex with men in Minnesota when she was around 15 or 16 years old. But the jury did not convict anyone on counts related to her testimony.
Luke Evans, an attorney for the acquitted defendant Fadumo Mohamed Farah, said Jane Doe No. 5 was mentally ill and not taking her medication when she testified. He argued that she suffers from paranoid delusions and can't tell fiction from fact.
The original indictment that was unsealed in 2010 claims the ring involved three Minneapolis-based gangs _ the Somali Outlaws, the Somali Mafia and the Lady Outlaws _ and that all three gangs are connected. The men and women charged were either gang members or associates of the gangs that operated in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Columbus, Ohio; and Nashville.
The other men acquitted Friday are Ahmad Abnulnasir Ahmad, Musse Ahmed Ali, Fatah Haji Hashi, Dahir Nor Ibrahim and Mohamed Ahmed Amalle.
Omar Jamal, first secretary of the Somali Mission to the United Nations, said the fact that a Somali victim testified against other Somalis added credibility to her claims, but there was still a lot of people in the community who do not believe the government's accusations.
"I am really content with the verdict," he said. "The justice system worked here ... I hope it will be learning moment for the community and everyone."